Great news for Australian science with Tasmanian-born molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn yesterday being awarded a Nobel Prize in Medicine.
Professor Blackburn, who currently works at the University of California, San Francisco, will share the 10 million Swedish kronor (A$1.6 million) prize with colleagues Carole Gredier (Johns Hopkins University) and Jack Szostak (Harvard) for their discovery of telomeres, the protective cap that prevents chromosomes from falling apart when cells divide.
Blackburn and Szostak uncovered the unique DNA sequence in the telomeres that protects the chromosomes from degradation, while Blackburn teamed up with Greider to identify telomerase, the enzyme that makes telomeres.
Telomere defects have since been revealed to play a critical role in the aging process and the onset of several inherited diseases, especially of the skin and lungs.
Blackburn grew up in Tasmania, completed undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Melbourne and earned a Ph.D from Cambridge University. She is the first Australian woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize and only the ninth woman to be awarded the physiology or medicine prize since its inception in 1909.
It’s great to see an Australian woman receive such a prestigious scientific honour. We know that the contributions of women to the fields of science and technology have long been undervalued.
If you have a taste for the lighter side of science, check out this year’s Ig Nobel Award winners, honouring scientific achievements “that first make people laugh, and then make them think”.